Monday, February 1, 2010

This One'll Be a Doozy

Because it's been what, two months? since I've posted. I'll never be a blog celebrity I guess. I think I'm ok with that.

Not to say that I haven't had anything to blog about in the last two months, quite the opposite. It's been a whirlwind of countries and people peppered with essays and deadlines. I'll try to be brief and concise, but I mean, you've read these before and you know full well that brevity and concision are not my forte.

Looking back on my last post, I actually find it hard to believe that I haven't recorded anything since my Stonehenge walkabout. Yeesh, a lot has happened.

The rest of November's highlights brought American Thanksgiving and the Mendips trip. Back in October we had quite a nice Canadian Thanksgiving, but really it paled in comparison to how my neighbours down south celebrate the harvest. We made much the same dinner as last time - roasted chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes, brussell sprouts, pie - but the wine was certainly more plentiful. That extra ingredient also made the patriotism a little more plentiful as well. Two fire alarms went off during the evening - there was a party on another floor of the building - but not be outdone by Unite House, we thoroughly ignored them (this really is the building that cried fire) by drowning them out with rousing renditions of the Stars and Stripes, Oh Canada, and God Save the Queen (excellently portrayed by Adrianna and Brian here). It may have been the celebration of an American holiday for the benefit of our favourite American Buddies, but we added our own flavour of Study Abroad to the whole mix as well.

The next day (and boy did it come too soon) took us to the UBES Mendips trip. It was not like most other UBES trips for, instead of going away for a weekend and climbing with vigor, it was a day trip to a local hill-range filled with tasks and games and other such frivolous activities. My personal favourite was one of the first we did, wherein the team had to split up into "horses" and "riders", then, in a relay, the rider sat on the horse as the horse climbed up a tarp covered in soap to get the rider to a bucket of mushy peas wherein some "gold" was hidden, the rider put the gold into their cowboy hat, slid back down down, and passed on the baton as it were. Thoroughly goofy and I had mushy peas in my hair for the rest of the day, but you know, that's what UBES is for. Of course, I was also entirely charmed by the views (you could see the sea) and we had not one but two rainbows grace our presence that day. Following the trip was the famed Mendips party (word on the street was they broke a wall in someone's house the year before), and with the free jungle juice and tequila it was, needless to say, messy.

Just one week later, I came home for Christmas. Christmas just isn't Christmas without snow, family, friends, and my rediculous traditions so it was an incredibly lovely treat to be able to come home (thank you M and D) for my very short visit. I was delightfully sedentary the first few days, basking in a full fridge and my own good little bed (much larger and more comfortable than my bed in Unite), but soon after I had returned to good ol' Ottawa I packed off to Montreal for a few days to see the city I love and friends that I would have missed otherwise. I stayed with Megan for my whole visit, which of course meant that my stay was charming. The first day Megan and I luxuriated about her apartment (my possible place next year? I could get used to that), brought Eric some food as he was studying at McGill for three days straight in his common room, and then hosted a dinner with Emilie, Kesha, and Grant. The second day incurred more laying about, with the evening bringing me to a wine and cheese at Lilly's with Lilly, Nathan, Kesha, Ian, Emilie, Phil, and Alex. We went onwards to my favourite hookah place (though I never know the name, it's on St. Denis between Maisonneuve and Sherbrooke), and then Kesha and I trekked back to the Concordia Ghetto with our feet falling off in the process. Did I mention that it was -30 the whole time I was in Montreal? Made the weary traveller feel at home, for sure.

I then returned to Ottawa for all the pre-Christmas festivities. Slimey Grimey came to stay with me for a few days (to make up for her lack of staying with me over New Years which has become something of a tradition) and we spent a day being tourists downtown - Major's Hill Park, Parliament, Scone Witch - and one exceedingly charming evening of singing acapella carols with Gabe. After her departure I bunkered down for all the family favourites: Christmas Eve at the Ensoms, watching A Christmas Carol (only the Alastair Sim), breakfast with the Joneseseseseses on Christmas morning, lunch with the Lorimers, Christmas dinner, and then packing off to Toronto on Boxing day in preparation for my flight out of Pearson back to England on the 29th.

I was very fortunate to be bumped up to first class on my flight back to England, though I looked a mess and certainly didn't fit in. Who knows if a girl can go back to the cattle cars after that royal treatment, but I suppose in future it must be stuck, so I'll stick it. Ariana - who coincidentally was on the same flight as me - and I spent the next day getting organised for Spain, for we were to fly out the next day to meet up with Adrianna, Clara, Navleen, and Kiki in Barcelona for New Years. We really only had one day of sight-seeing in Barcelona, so we headed up to the Sagrada Familia which was delightfully bonkers. We then walked down to see the outsides of some Gaudi buildings (the lines were around the block to get inside so we didn't even try), and meandered down Las Ramblas (the main shopping street) down to the waterfront. The evenings festivites saw us towards a tapas dinner, partying in the hostel with some exuberant Australians and Irishmen, and then to the Plaça de Catalunya for the Barcelonian (?) tradition of eating twelve grapes at midnight. After the striking of the clock, we had some ill-fated attempts of trying to make our way through the crowds of people, ending up back at the hostel after much to do. It was then early to rise in the morning to catch our trains to various locales about Spain: Clara, Navleen, and Kiki were off to Madrid whilst Adrianna, Ariana, and I high-tailed it to Sevilla.

I LOVED Sevilla (even though I have a hard time calling it that, thanks to the Barber of anglicising all that I say and do). We were in a wonderful hostel that was clean, cheap, and right in the heart of the historical district of the city. The first day that we were there was extraordinarily sunny and warm (I had never travelled somewhere warm in the winter before my sojourn in Spain). I was crazy about the orange trees lining all the streets, which gloriously complemented the fabulous Cathredral of Seville, some gardens, the Plaça España, the Tobacco Factory, everything. On our first full day we meandered about the Cathedral, heading up to the spire for some fantastic views, and milled about until our walking tour which took us down some back streets to little nooks of history that would never have been found without a guide. We embraced the Spanish tradition of taking a little siesta, then were pointed by the hostel's receptionist towards a charming little bar with live music and cheap and plentiful sangria. The next day our Madrid ladies came into town, so we sent them on the walking tour while we went to Seville Art Gallery, the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populaires de Sevilla, and the Real Alcazar (a formerly Moorish castle). We had a dinner of paella at a nearby restaurant for dinner, and then were off to a free flamenco show (also with plentiful sangria): all faaantastic. Unfortunately Adrianna, Ariana, and I had to catch our flight back to Bristol the next day. Unfortunate because I could have stayed there much much longer, I really loved Sevilla.

We returned to Bristol and then launched ourselves into the depraived depths of writing final papers. Again, not very interesting unless of course you want my opinion of the various library facilities of Bristol University (we don't). We discovered the engineering library (please stop) which was lovely cause you can drink coffee, no one is ever in there, and the view of Bristol is stunning (we're going to stop reading). Those took the better of two weeks, only stopping on Wednesdays to go to the pub, so if you ever need to know anything about the Pragmatism of the Ottoman Empire or the Personal Characteristics of Henry V as Seen in his Administrative Prowess, you now have an expert in the house.

As soon as those bad boys were finished, I gamboled off to Cambridge to meet up with my sister Connie. She had been in London for about a week doing research for her PhD, so our visit with friends of hers was a welcome study-break for the both of us. Our first day there her high-school friend Katie showed us around a few of the colleges: Jesus, Christ's, Corpus Christi (I see a theme. . . ) King's, and Peterhouse being the highlights in my books. It was fantastic to get the VIP treatment while we were there, for we able to partake in activities that the mere mortal tourist could not have. Katie took us to her college for lunch each day ("I'm eating in Jesus College!"), her husband Dave took us to a Robbie Burns Dinner at his college ("I'm eating haggis in King's College!"), and we had a formal dinner back at Jesus on the last night ("I could get used to eating at Cambridge!"). During the days Connie and I mooned about the town and grounds, meandered about museums (we saw Darwin's original beetle collection), and visually gorged on all things English (including a mural done by Quentin Blake to cover the scaffolding for the repairs on King's College). We also attended Evensong at the King's College Chapel, which was absolutely gorgeous. Made me want to be an aesthetic anglican for all it's acapella boys choirs, candle-lit services, and highest vaulted ceilings in all of England. After our fantastic stay on the Cam, I brought Con back to Bristol and showed her all of my favourite sights and sounds, including Brandon Hill, the Bridge, Clifton, the Museum, and, of course, Cider.

Classes started soon after she left, so I've been paring down a bit, save for heading to Salisbury last Saturday for the day with Clara and Ariana. Almost everything was closed, so we had a bit of slower-paced day than I was used to, but we did get to meander about the town a bit, and had plenty of time to marvel at the Cathedral and one of the original four copies of the Magna Carta contained therein. It really was a quintessential English town, just the kind I came here for. That's actually been one of my favourite thoughts as of late as we've all been comparing our favourite countries about Europe after everyone's Christmas travels. Some like France, others Italy, others Spain, but I seem to be the only one whose favourite country so far has been England. After all, that's why I chose to come here rather than anywhere else in Europe. Really I got the best deal out of everyone, cause I get to live here EVERY DAY.

Speaking of which, I've been writing this for ages, and, as my mother would say, the day's a-wasting! Tonight we are going to plan our trips for the rest of the semester, and within a week or two I'll be kicking them off either in Dublin with my kids here, or Paris with Greer. England may be my favourite, but that's no reason not to see if anywhere else can top it. . . .

(I doubt it.)


Your friend Lina

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